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(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
The Jewish Agency's operational budget that finances overseas programs will be cut by millions of dollars, according to officials attending this week's Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem.
Some $850,000 will be cut from programs in the Former Soviet Union, sources said, about $500,000 from the agency's flagship ulpanim program, representing a 50% cut to the extensive and relatively cheap program that offers Hebrew language education to some 20,000 students across the FSU.
"The ulpanim are the central axis of the entire Jewish education system in the FSU," said one board member in frustration when learning of the cuts. "Teaching Hebrew is the equivalent in Russia of synagogue life. This means the ulpanim system will be destroyed."
Another $1m. will be cut from the emissary system, which places agency emissaries in Jewish communities scattered around the world. According to the plan, emissaries will be withdrawn or have already been pulled out of countries such as Hungary and Brazil. A Jewish Agency official said there were no emissaries in Eastern Europe anymore.
While North American emissaries - also reduced in number in recent years - are funded by the local community, those in more impoverished communities around the world are paid for by the agency.
These cuts, officials said, are only part of across-the-board cuts in Jewish Agency programming around the world.
The cuts engendered bitter complaints from some quarters.
"While Bielski schmoozes his way to a cabinet position, the agency is being dismantled around him," said one board member. "There is no strategy about how to deal with this," he said, wondering "what JAFI gets out of a $5m. gift to birthright [israel] every year, or out of most of its other international partnerships?"
"People here are protecting their fiefdoms and jobs and can't see the drying up of the food supply," said another official.
Jeff Kaye, Director of Resource Development and Public Affairs for the agency, confirmed that there were budget cuts, but not their extent, and noted four reasons for the cuts.
"First, the US dollar [most of the funds come from American federations through the UJC] buys fewer shekels and rubles than before. Second, over the years, the power of the dollar has been diluted by inflation. Third, JAFI completed a strategic plan with goals that, to sustain them," require shifting funds from other projects.
"Finally, we believe the grant from the US federal government will be reduced, since it's based on the number of olim from countries of distress," a number that has shrunk to almost nil in recent years, he explained.
Kaye also denied that funding was being cut according to geographic region or ethnic group.
"All our departments see a Jewish child as a Jewish child," he said. "There's no preference of one nation over another, but of individual opportunities where we can make a change."
According to Carole Solomon, the former chair of the Board of Governors who currently chairs the agency's North American Council, the funding crunch is also part of the "adjustment" after the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign that raised hundreds of millions of dollars last year to counter the effects of the Second Lebanon War.
"Anytime there's an emergency campaign, where people in the Diaspora extend their giving, there is an adjustment back," she said.
At the same time, both agreed that the cut in "core budget" for agency programming was partially compensated by "supplemental giving," some of it specifically designated for FSU programming.
"Philanthropy has changed. People want to give to specific projects," Kaye said. "In addition to the core dollars, and not including money raised because of the war, we raised $48 million for specific initiatives." This continued a small but steady rise over the past few years, with some $3m. more than last year.